Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Album: Crystal Antlers - Two-Way Mirror

Two-Way Mirror (Crystal Antlers)
Album: Two-Way Mirror
Recreation, Ltd.
Rating: ***** (5/10)
Release date: 7/19/11

I love simplicity. Some of my favorite songs stick relentlessly to four quarter notes, three-note melodies or two-chord progressions. The key word in that sentence is "or." Our Crystal Antlers seem to have overlooked those little two letters on their most recent bore of a release. Two-Way Mirror is devoid of harmonic or melodic interest. It does occasionally veer into vaguely interesting rhythmic territory but it's not enough to carry the album. If the opening vocal melody doesn't immediately put you to sleep, you probably need to cut down on your caffeine intake.

Two-Way Mirror is, primarily, an exercise in late 60's psych rock cliches. Most of the riffs, many of the melodies and nearly all of the beats sound familiar. However, those cliches are filtered through modern sounds - that sort of strained, shouty male vocal that's dominated indie rock since punk, and a lotta noise. Despite these 2011 touches, though, the album sounds dated and frankly, dated to a time when rock music kind of sucked, when psych rock started to get really bloated, when Jimi was dead and the Dead were taking over. Listen to the opening notes of "By the Sawkill" and tell me you haven't heard it before. It's like friggin Santana, only at least he was a) better and b) doing this shit in 1970, when people didn't know any better. It was a primitive time back then, before people knew about punk rock and computers and haircuts.

That said, I've probably knocked these kids enough. There really are some cool moments on the album. The droning synth-and-drum interlude "Way Out" is brilliant and original and not 1970 at all. "Summer Solstice" is less exciting but at least sounds modern with its post punk drums and murky mix. In fact, it sounds kind of like the Arcade Fire, which in 2011 is better than sounding like Santana.

"Always Afraid" sounds pretty par for the album until it's taken over by some avant jazz saxophone which is rarely a good idea but miraculously works here and puts the band on a completely different level. It's the beginning of a triumvirate of inspired songs. The next track, "Knee Deep," accomplishes what the rest of the album is probably trying to accomplish, which is a fresh, if not radical, noise-and-chaos take on a familiar form. It wallows in that form, but it's also bold enough to have something new to say about it. However, no track on the album holds a candle to end of this brilliant triptych, the breathtaking "Sun-Bleached." A smoldering guitar, faintly warbling organ and subdued voice bleed together in a song so stunningly dissonant it really, genuinely makes me cry.

Unfortunately, this late piece of pure brilliance doesn't end the album. There's another song, "Dog Days," which sounds like what you'd think a song called "Dog Days" would sound like, which is to say, not very exciting. I'm sure it sounded pretty gnarly to the band when they wrote it after smoking a lot of weed. But the whole point of weed is that it makes boring shit seem interesting, and well, my dear antlers, I'm sorry to tell you that this song isn't up to snuff without chemical enhancement.

The Crystal Antlers obviously have something going for them. Otherwise, they could never have written anything as simple and arresting as "Sun-Bleached." The sonic components are pretty well in place throughout the album, actually - cut the reverb (which isn't as obscene as most recent bands' anyway) and they'd be just the right kind of noisy. The only missing piece to this puzzle is song-writing. But unfortunately, that's a pretty important piece and all those 1-4-5 chords and melodies are enough to bore ya to tears.

Hopefully, "Sun-Bleached" is enough to tide us over until these guys learn how to write.

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